Review of 'The Natural Health Service' by Isobel Hardman

Bee 2020

I tend to be a little sceptical when presented with a book appearing to promote the next new miracle treatment of mental illness but ‘The Natural Health Service: What the great outdoors can do for your mind’ is different. The author Isabel Hardman describes her own journey through mental illness using it as a backdrop to her exploration of ways in which our interactions with the natural world around us can be used to improve quality of life as well as mental health outcomes. She is not advocating these as a ‘cure’ or as substitute for drug & other therapy but rather outlines the evidence for potential benefit while describing her own experiences of connecting with nature from simple observation through activities including running, cold water swimming & horse riding with often wonderful descriptions of the natural world around her. There is a refreshing acceptance that what works for some does not necessarily work for others – it was a relief for me to find someone else who admits formal mindfulness classes & gratitude journals just do not work for them. While it is unlikely I will be trying out all the activities she describes there are many elements that are easily achievable that I will take forward. As I would expect from an award-winning political journalist the writing is eloquent and thoroughly researched with its last chapter putting forward a ‘manifesto’ of how the Natural Health service could be harnessed for use within our National Health service & in promotion of wellbeing. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in mental health & wellbeing, both professional & patient, and wish that our politicians & those who advise them would read it too.